AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Closing arguments began in federal court Monday to determine how much the federal government will pay the victims and families involved in the Sutherland Springs church shooting that left 26 people dead, and 22 others injured.
In July, a federal judge determined that since the gunman had threatened mass violence while in the Air Force, the government was 60% liable for the mass shooting. The judge’s ruling aligns with the victims and families who believe the deadly shooting could have been prevented if the military branch had properly reported it.
The federal government is offering $31 million in total to the victims and their families. That’s less than 10% of the $400 million the families asked for. Some of the plaintiffs are only offered $50,000.
Last month, the federal government offered $88 million in total to the victims and family members involved in the 2015 mass shooting that killed nine in South Carolina. Each person in that case was awarded $5 to $7 million, depending on how they were impacted.
That settlement gave hope to the survivors and family members in this case, whose lawyers argued that the South Carolina settlement laid the groundwork for the federal government to pay up.
The federal government’s argument for only offering $31 million is based on the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is meant for compensation, not punitive rewards.
According to the U.S. defense team, the Sutherland Springs victims’ argument that victims and families are entitled to a higher reward since more people were killed in this mass shooting would be punitive, rather than compensatory.
The federal government also argued the FTCA does not require equal treatment to claimants in settlements.
The victims and families are asking for more due to the mental anguish they’ve experienced.
The federal court heard from victims directly, including Juan Macius, who is now bound to a wheelchair due to his injuries. He spoke to his mental health troubles in addition to his physical ones stemming from the tragedy.
The court also heard from a child who had to watch her mom and two sisters die in the church that day.
The attorneys for those victims closed by arguing that the government needs to take emotional damages just as seriously as physical ones.
There’s no set timeline for when the judge’s decision will come.